Public Displays of Affection Review

The wonderful Graham Watts came along to the London Bridge Live Arts Festival last week, and wrote a lovely review of Public Displays of Affection!

A quiet oasis of tranquillity nestles underneath the imposing presence of the Shard. The King’s College Memorial Gardens are situated in a central courtyard of Guy’s Campus, a surprisingly secluded place just a stone’s throw away from one of the city’s busiest transport hubs at London Bridge. Sited on a wall at the entrance to the gardens is a little circular blue plaque, which commemorates the remarkable fact that Ludwig Wittgenstein turned his back on philosophy in late 1941 to become a medical orderly, working incognito at Guy’s Hospital during the blitz. A life-sized sculpture of Wittgenstein sits in a shelter enclosed within a tiny wild meadow where it is possible to enjoy the peacefulness of this place by sitting next to ‘him’.

The inner beauty of these gardens is that one simply comes across the Wittgenstein figure among other hidden treasures. I found a tree from which personal memorabilia (including family photographs and ornaments) hung like a giant mobile. I have no idea who the people in the ancient photos are (or were) but the randomness of this encounter adds extra lustre to the intimacy of this precious place. These Gardens provided the perfect location for a “pop-up” event such as this half-hour show by nylon theatre, which has made an outdoors interactive installation out of a work that first saw the light of day in a more traditional theatrical context as part of The Place’s Resolution! Festival in January 2012.

These four performances, spread over two days as part of the London Bridge Live Arts Festival, have actually taken Amy Watson’s Public Displays of Affection back outside since the origins of her work emerged from research and development on the South Bank in late 2011. As Watson wrote in a blog back then, the piece evolved out of her favourite pastime of “people-watching” and – in particular – casually witnessing “real-life displays of affection…..tiny intimacies….snapshots of contact and affection on a grey London day”.

Four female dancers, each dressed variously in shades of mustard, opened the work, as surreptitiously as their colour co-ordinated costumes would allow, occupying different corners of the gardens and moving imperceptibly through people busily on their way from A to B. Some didn’t notice the performers amongst them as they walked on by: one woman sitting on a bench in the centre of the area had told me beforehand that she had come specifically to watch the open air show but then sat, eating her sandwiches for several minutes after it began, blissfully unaware of the activity around her! The four performers (Watson herself, plus Stacie Bennett, Evangelia Kolyra and Hanna Wroblewski) moved among the people in the gardens, pulling out earphones to attach to smart phones and offering spectators the opportunity to listen (Bee offered me the chance to hear some dialogue from an unknown contemporary movie). Throughout the show it was notable that the dancers paid special attention to any children, many of whom were captivated by their actions.

The choice of music (uncredited) was compatible with the tranquillity of the setting, enhancing the dominant feeling of peacefulness that occupied the area. Some people watched; others just went on with their business and the dancers’ interaction with the public clearly made each show very different. One guy joined in wholeheartedly, marching between Wroblewski and Kolyra while trying to keep in step; another student searched through his garishly-coloured rucksack to find some missing item completely oblivious to Wroblewski’s undulating movement as she danced no more than a metre to his left. It was as if such exhibitionism is a regular feature on Guy’s Campus (and for all I know, perhaps it is).

By far the best of all incidental influences were two young lovers, kissing tenderly while lying on the grass in front of the four dancers during the one brief interlude in which they all danced together in the same place. This young couple were both as significant and as incognito as Wittgenstein had been in this same place over 70 years’ ago, and quite unknowingly – and without credit – their small snapshot of intimacy gave free expression to the title and intention of the piece.

Graham Watts writes for londondance.com, Dance Tabs, Dancing Times and other magazines and websites in Europe, Japan and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and the National Dance Awards in the UK.

 

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